- Fresh from his disputed victory in Zimbabwe's parliamentary
elections, President Robert Mugabe has turned his sights on the country's
wildlife reserves in a bid to feed thousands of malnourished villagers.
- Zimbabwe's national parks have been ordered to work with
rural district councils to begin the wholesale slaughter of big game. National
park rangers said they had already shot 10 elephants in the past week.
The meat was barbecued at festivities to mark 25 years of independence.
Four of the animals were reportedly shot in view of tourists near Lake
Kariba, the largest man-made lake in Africa and a major wildlife haven.
- Five years after ordering white-owned farms to be confiscated,
the Mugabe regime has turned a country once known as the breadbasket of
Africa into a famished land. An estimated 4 million rural poor suffer from
- The wildlife directive is a major blow to efforts by
conservationists to rehabilitate a wildlife sector devastated by Mr Mugabe's
confiscation policy. The chaotic farm invasions saw party militants storming
into conservation areas - private and state-owned - to slaughter animals.
Unscrupulous South African hunters also joined in the looting, paying hefty
kickbacks to politicians to go into conservation areas and shoot lions,
leopards and cheetahs for trophies.
- There had been high hopes among conservationists that
Zimbabwe's wildlife sector could be restored to its former glory. Certain
species of wildlife in southern Zimbabwe are still abundant, and a trans-frontier
park, allowing animals from Mozambique and the Kruger Park in South Africa
to move freely in and out of Zimbabwe's Gonarezhou National Park (home
of the slaughtered elephants), had been set up.
- Those conservationists have criticised the new measures
and have been scathing about the killings of the elephants for the independence
celebrations. A giraffe was also killed to feed peasants in the Binga area
during the festivities, but the meat disappeared. It is believed that police
and army officials appropriated the meat for themselves and it never reached
the intended beneficiaries.
- Farmers have relied on their own livestock in the past
three years of famine, induced by the land seizures. Their plight has worsened
since the government stopped international donors from distributing food
aid in a move by Mr Mugabe to take charge of the process himself and punish
those who did not support him.
- Parks officials say many of the peasants living close
to the reserves have already been venturing inside to hunt and kill animals
with snares. But they said the impact of snare hunting by the villagers
was limited compared to what would happen if armed national park rangers
were allowed to enter conservation areas to secure meat to feed millions
of hungry farmers.
- "Killing of animals for any reasons other than conservation
can be very disastrous," said a parks official, speaking on condition
of anonymity. "The politicians think we have enough animals to feed
people without wiping out different species. We as professionals don't
think so. We are talking to them [the politicians] and we hope we will
reach consensus on protecting our wildlife heritage."
- Other government officials said that Mr Mugabe was so
happy about his rural constituency - which ensured he achieved a majority
of seats in last month's parliamentary elections - that he wanted to do
everything to please the voters. His party lost nearly all seats in urban
areas, traditional strongholds of the opposition, and won in rural areas
where it had created more constituencies. Mr Mugabe has also created a
new ministry to look after the rural electorate.
- Food ran out in Zimbabwe soon after the election and
the country has experienced acute power and fuel shortages over the past
two weeks. Basic commodities have disappeared from shops. Mr Mugabe has
said he will jail manufacturers whom he accuses of creating shortages to
encourage people to revolt.
- ©2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.